Along the iron fence enclosing the grounds of the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa hang sixty posters in an exhibit called 30x30.
Below is the curator's statement, my translation:
30x30: An Opportunity for Reflexion
[The statement opens with the following quote:]
"The circus is on fire and the owner, instead of rescuing the midgets sells tickets for the next performance."
-- Jacobo Jabludovsky [Very little is simple or exactly as it appears in Mexico. This incredible quote which seems to summarize perfectly both the events of the Bicentennial and the Centennial was made by a Mexican journalist who himself was long a mouthpiece for the PRI, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, and a corrupter of the news on the party's behalf. He is more than that, and not all of it bad, but a lot of it quite confusing to me as a foreigner.]
This year of 2010 we Mexicans are witness to two historic events important in the life of the country: the Bicentennial of Independence and the Centennial of the Revolution. For those who are lovers of opportunism, this will provide an excuse for vulgar extravaganzas rich in advertising but poor in ideas. For the rest of us, all the way to the farthest corner of the country, these events will provide a great opportunity to indulge in ardent and sincere patriotic fervor. However, the economic crisis (more than fifty million Mexicans live in poverty), the millions of unemployed, the insecurity, the violence, the corruption, the impunity and the discrediting of authorities oblige and will continue to oblige our collective imagination to reflect and to reconsider what should be celebrated, what should be commemorated.
The poster, the thermometer of society historically has been a presence and a comrade -- an accomplice at times in social struggles and demands.[Mexico has a rich history of political art: posters, cartoons, paintings, music.] For this reason, and to mark these days, the Instituto de Artes Plásticas de la Universidad Veracruzana brought together 60 graphic designers to express their ideas, their points of view, their feelings, through this medium. Thirty of the posters are dedicated to the theme of Mexican independene and thirty to the theme of the Mexican Revolution. This is how the exposition got its name, 30-30 which also alludes in passing to that short-barreled rifle better known as the carbine..... [Carbines and other guns made by Remington started arriving in Mexico in the second half of the nineteenth century. I'm taking a wild guess here that carbines were the signature guns of Pancho Villa's crowd and maybe others during the Revolution.]
Jose Morelos, Curator
Jim and I had parked across the street from the museum and had no idea these posters were on the fence. We'd come to see something else entirely. We realized later we missed all the posters addressing Independence and saw only those marking the Mexican Revolution.
Below is a sampling of those latter posters. They are wonderful and surprising. And disturbing and moving and sometimes funny. As people like to say, there is no cause for optimism, but hope remains.
The poster above says: Revolution 1910, Regression 2010.
Celebrating with the loot from their conquests
Energy resources - lands - public education - workers' rights
The legend of the beginning of Mexico is that the people who were to become the Aztecs were poor wanderers making their way south. They would know they had reached the place they were meant to settle when they saw an eagle on a cactus with a serpent in his beak. This poster is a play on that legend and that image which is seen all over in a more benign form. Here you can see the implication that modern Mexico has been built with weapons and blood. The quote is from a poem by Ramón López Velarde, now considered one of Mexico's greatest and most characteristic poets. Called "Suave Patria", or in the translation I use, Sweet Country, it is a poem celebrating Mexico's blessings and condemning its sins.
In the translation written in 1921 by Margaret Sayers Peden. the verse says:
Patria, I give the key to happiness:
be faithful forever to your likeness:
fifty repeats of the Ave are carved
on the beads of the rosary, and it is
more fortunate than you, Patria suave.
When I was taking my Diplomado en Estudios Mexicanos at the school for foreign students of UNAM, I wrote a paper about López Velarde. He was from the state of Zacatecas and educated in the north of the country. We visited his childhood home in Jerez, near the city of Zacatecas, where unfortunately in the past year or so narcos shot each other up in the streets. Lopez Velarde was involved in the writing of the Plan of San Luis Potosí in which Madero, the leader of the revolutionaries in 1910 called for the government to be overthrown. I just have to mention that some of that revolutionary work and writing was done in San Antonio, Texas.
López Velarde made his way to Mexico City to write and to involve himself with the very active circle of intellectuals there. Although after he died, his talent and contributions to Mexican letters were recognized, while he was alive and trying to make it in Mexico City, he was sometimes looked down on and considered a provincial. He also remained a strong practicing Catholic which the intellectuals who were involved in other philosophical movements derided.
Anyway, I don't entirely understand the verse above, either in Spanish or in English, except that along with much other literature and art in Mexico, it acknowledges that the beautiful and blessed land of Mexico is also cursed, at least at times, by the deeds and greed of its own leaders.
The Mexican Revolution overthrew Porfirio Diaz who started out a progressive leader and turned into a dictator. The Revolution itself lasted for at least ten years and devolved into a civil war. The victorious PRI -- Institutional Revolutionary Party -- became a group dictatorship that lasted seventy years, some of them better than others.
Below are two humorous posters with which I will close this post.
It has to be love, it has to be the Revolution. It's the same story.